HS2 could run fewer and slower trains to keep within budget and schedule, warns chief executive

HS2 could be forced to run fewer trains and at slower speeds in order to keep the high-speed rail project within its £56m budget, its chief executive has said.

The flagship project will establish a high-speed rail link between London and Birmingham by 2026 followed by Phase 2b extending to Crewe, Manchester, and Leeds, using trains designed to operate at up the 225mph.

But at a meeting with MPs, HS2’s chief executive Mark Thurston said that train speeds could be reduced and the number of services running cut in a bid to reduce cost and keep the project within its budget.

The project has been heavily scrutinised with price estimates given to MPs reportedly hundreds of millions undervalued and fears that costs are spiralling out of control, following in the footsteps of Crossrail.

It has now emerged that Andrea Leadsom, the leader of Commons, previously questioned the “viability” of the project at a meeting of the All-Parliamentary Rail Group in November – resulting in HS2 considering a number of cost-cutting measures.

Details of the meeting were revealed in a letter from Leadsom to Thurston, stating that she was aware he had conceded that a “number of changes to the project may have to be considered in order to keep it within budget and on time.”

It is reported that changes would see train services reduced by 18 to 14 per hour, which would see the capacity reduced by the equivalent of 8,800 passengers during peak times, and possibly lowering train speeds by 30mph.

Leadsom said: “My constituents are naturally concerned that changes to the project could undermine the business case, negatively affect the benefit-cost ratio, and reduce the value for taxpayers’ money.”

Leadsom wanted assurances that the project would be delivered on time and on budget, and added that possible changes could have a substantial impact on the business case for the project which was agreed by MPs.

Thurston then responded to Leadsom, stating it was HS2’s intention to deliver the project on time and within budget but that she was correct in referring to a number of options available which include reducing the speeds of HS2 trains and the number in service.

He wrote: “However, I was also clear that HS2 Ltd is working to the scope and budget of the project which the government has set, and for which detailed debate in parliament has taken place.”

He added that if at some point the project is forced to consider these options, then more detailed work on the effect of such changes would take place.


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